Dust off those skis and snowshoes, and find your boots: winter is back. Forecasters say there should be plenty of snow to come, and one great place to take advantage of it is at a conservation area in the Bay of Quinte region.
Quinte Conservation owns and looks after over thirty of them here (each open from dawn til dusk) so you have some choice. A few are perfect for cross-country ski buffs while others are good for a slow snowshoe or a stroll through the woods. Most work for any fan of winter. To help navigate, here are five conservation areas you shouldn’t miss.
Quinte Conservation Area
Originally settled in 1815 and later turned into an orchard, this 346-acre property that runs north from the Bay of Quinte just east of Belleville is Quinte Conservation’s home base. Keep your eye out for remnants of the farm and the orchard as you hike, ski or snowshoe the conservation area’s six trails—Orchard Trail (2.3 km), Loyalist Loop (1.7 km), Wallbridge Loop (0.9 km) Creekside Trail Loop (0.8 km), Sumac Trail (0.3 km) and Pooch Path, a 0.6 km unleashed dog trail. By the time you read this, the new accessible trail that runs along the waterfront should be ready, too.
Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area
When I was a kid, this was the place to toboggan in the County for two reasons: the mountain’s 250-foot vertical drop and the wide path in the middle that made it safe enough to launch down it on a crazy carpet. I’m not in on the toboggan hotspots these days, but Macaulay Mountain has to be still up there. There are over twenty kilometres of skiing, snowshoeing and hiking trails here as well, each with its own set of hidden entrances, exits and side trails. For a bit of strange to round out your visit, head to birdhouse city at the bottom of the mountain to see about one hundred local buildings in bird size.
H.R. Frink Outdoor Education Centre and Conservation Area
This 341-acre property has about fourteen kilometres of trails and is located on the Moira River about 15 km north of Belleville. Named after Herbert Frink, a well-known local educator and conservationist, it’s been a hub for outdoor education programs since 1972. No trail is longer than a couple of clicks, and each is easy enough for anyone. My fave is the Drumlin Trail (1.9 km), where you’ll come across a sugar maple swamp (tapped every spring), pass through a deciduous forest, and come right up to the mighty Moira. Take the conservation area’s tree guide with you to learn more about the over twenty-five tree species you’ll come across.
Vanderwater Conservation Area
I learned to ski here, and I’m glad I did. Not only are the fifteen kilometres of trails diverse enough to suit rookies and veterans alike, but the environment makes you realize why most take up the sport. A steep ridge runs the length of the 635-acre property, offering up spectacular views of the land to the west and the mature cedar forests below. When the snow is deep and weighing down those cedars, it feels like a blanket was tossed over everything. Nearby, the Moira River cascades over limestone steps as it keeps flowing toward the Bay of Quinte.
O’Hara Mill Homestead and Conservation Area
This 85-acre conservation area and pioneer village puts you in the shoes of the O’Haras, one of the founding families of Madoc. Five of the family’s original buildings—the farmhouse, sawmill, carriage-house, shed and woodworking shop—remain in a restored condition. A few others, including two log cabins and a schoolhouse, have been relocated to the site. The buildings aren’t open in the winter, but you’re free to explore the grounds on the seven hiking trails that range from 0.1 to 2 kilometres long. ohara-mill.org